Earlier Updates

UPDATE, JUNE 3, 2014: NCCPR Responds to “Innocents Lost”

All of the failings described elsewhere on this website are found in the March 2014 Herald series "Innocents Lost."

NCCPR has produced a comprehensive rebuttal to the series.  Click here to read the full rebuttal.

NCCPR President Prof. Martin Guggenheim has sent this letter to Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marques Gonzales:

 June 2, 2014
Aminda Marqués Gonzalez,
Executive Editor,
The Miami Herald
3511 NW 91st Avenue
Miami, FL 33172
Dear Ms. Gonzalez:
As President of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (www.nccpr.org), an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to trying to make the child protection system better serve America’s most vulnerable children, I write to express my deep disappointment in the Herald’s recent series “Innocents Lost.” 
Regrettably, I cannot say I am surprised.  For several years reporter Carol Marbin Miller has been on what amounts to a crusade to reverse reforms that actually made Florida children safer.  I also know that it will be especially hard for you to reconsider a series that was well-motivated and has won so much acclaim.  But the errors in this series are so grave that they endanger the very children they are intended to help.
Our organization has prepared a detailed response to the series.  Because of its length I have not tried to send it as an attached file.  Rather we have posted it online here:  http://www.nccpr.org/reports/responsetoherald.pdf  
It also will be available to the public via a link from www.heraldvsfacts.blogspot.com, a website we created in 2011 that critiques previous, similar failings in the Herald’s journalism about child welfare, www.heraldvsfacts.blogspot.com 

I ask that you consider this response – and the Herald’s responsibility to share with its readers perspectives with which it does not agree.  I ask as well that you examine the many errors of fact and context in the Herald stories and assign another reporter to re-report and reexamine these issues.
Martin Guggenheim
cc: Carol Marbin Miller,
Audra D.S. Burch


NCCPR announces the first Carol Marbin Miller award for dangerously-distorted coverage of child welfare.  The winner is Kelli Kennedy of the Florida Associated Press, for a story Saturday which included the following claim:

In one year, the number of Florida child abuse deaths dropped 30 percent, from 197 to 136, according to a tally by the state.

The dip between 2009 and 2010 seems remarkable, but it's not because of a massive campaign to prevent child abuse deaths, but rather because the state changed the way it categorized such deaths. … Just before the dip, former DCF director of family safety Alan Abramowitz sent out a draft policy in 2010 narrowing guidelines for how to classify drowning and deaths of a child sleeping with a parent known as co-sleeping deaths, saying there had to be a willful act of a caregiver to be considered neglect. Although it was never became policy, investigators unofficially followed it. Abramowitz said the guidelines were intended to improve consistency. He left the agency to head the state's Guardian Ad Litem program in 2011.

Miller herself wrote a story making the same grossly misleading claim today.  Both stories leave out crucial context – context both reporters knew or should have known, but chose to ignore.

The story makes no mention of the fact that in 2006 the chair of the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Team, Maj. Connie Shingledecker, pressured authorities all over the state to broaden the criteria for labeling certain deaths abuse – indeed, she wanted all drowning deaths classified as maltreatment.

Miller's story falsely claims that "Prior to 2010, [co-sleeping and drowning] deaths were routinely categorized as abuse or neglect."  In fact, that was true only between 2006 and 2010.  When the de facto definition was expanded to include all such deaths, as a result of Shingledecker's pressure, in 2006, reported child abuse deaths soared – although there was no indication of any actual increase in child abuse, just the change in definition. Details are in this post to the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog.  Yet no reporters rushed to write stories stating that this increase was simply the result of a new definition.

Alan Abramowitz's proposed policy simply restored balance and common sense – attempting to bring a small measure of objectivity to a highly-subjective judgment: When is a drowning an accident and when is at an act of neglect?

Furthermore, notice how Kennedy cites no actual source in claiming that this policy was applied “unofficially.”  She doesn’t even claim an anonymous source.  That makes it no more than her personal opinion – something her editors at AP should have caught. Miller, in contrast, claims the policy was "approved in the summer of 2010" - but she also cites no source for this.  So there is no evidence this is any more than her opinion.

But let's assume, hypothetically, that Kennedy and Miller are right and the alleged policy both exists and affected the numbers.  That simply restores the method for categorizing these cases roughly to where it was before 2006.

Miller also falsely claims that the decline in reported child abuse deaths in 2010 was the first significant decline in a decade.  But there also were significant declines in 2007 and in 2009, before any alleged change in policy.  The full story of trends in child abuse fatalities in Florida is available here.

In the case of the AP story, Kennedy's bias is so flagrant, it apparently violated the AP’s own rules, outlined in its highly-regarded stylebook.

The first version of the story included the brackets in the excerpt below:

For example, a mother came home from work and found her two-month old dead in a bed where he had been sleeping with his father and two siblings. There was no crib in the home, the father admitted [AP Style 1] to smoking marijuana and he had a criminal history including drug charges, according to the 2007 death review report. The death was verified as child abuse, yet the father was not drug-tested after the child's death.

A similar situation in the Panhandle was not verified as a child abuse death after a toddler got out of a trailer and drowned. The mother admitted[AP Style 2]  she was high on marijuana, and authorities found marijuana in the kitchen. She wasn't drug tested or arrested. Officers said they didn't pursue it because the parents were already so upset about the child's death.

That’s followed by these notations at the end, apparently from an editor:

[AP Style 1]acknowledged (connotation of wrongdoing; see Stylebook)<http://support.ap.org/stylebook?admitted>

 [AP Style 2]acknowledged (connotation of wrongdoing; see Stylebook)http://support.ap.org/stylebook?admitted

It’s obvious from how the reporter wrote the story just what she thinks of a mother who both dares to smoke pot and lives in a trailer.  Would any of her upper-middle-class friends get the same treatment from her if, say, their toddler unlatched a back door and wandered out of the McMansion one morning while they nursed a hangover from too many classes of Merlot the night before?


Gov. Scott is bragging about signing a bill designed to further enshrine post-Penn State paranoia in Florida.  Among its provisions:

Any Florida College System institution, state university, or nonpublic college, university, or school, as  defined in s. 1000.21 or s. 1005.02, whose administrators knowingly and willfully, upon receiving information from  faculty, staff, or other institution employees, fail to report  known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect committed on the property of the university, college, or school, or during an event or function sponsored by the university, college, or school, or who knowingly and willfully prevent  another person from doing so, shall be subject to fines of $1 million for each such failure. [Emphasis added].

In other words: If, for example, someone working on a college campus says that a child who happens to be on that campus for tutoring or perhaps a youth sports program is wearing dirty clothes, or looks hungry and therefore might be “neglected,” and if that someone tells his bosses, those bosses must call the hotline and risk inflicting an extremely traumatic investigation on that child – or risk a fine of $1 million.

Or if, say, the college employee is looking for a chance to harass an ex-spouse or a neighbor against whom the employee has a grudge and wants the report to come from a credible third party – voila: An instant route to harassment.  Even if his bosses know the report is nonsense and the employee is harassing someone, they’re not going to risk a $1 million fine.

And, of course, this means more false allegations for the hotline to sort through and, often, pass on for investigation – so DCF caseworkers will have even less time to find children in real danger.

All this in a state so paranoid it already brought us this classic case of overreaction.


It’s a chilling reminder of what Florida child welfare was like at its worst, during the
Kathleen Kearney take-the-child-and run years, when huge numbers of children who never needed to be taken away flooded the system.  That created an artificial “shortage” of foster homes.   This also was when Nubia and Victor Barahona first came into foster care – and were placed with the Barahonas instead of loving relatives in another state. DCF was begging for beds and beggars can’t be choosers.  So DCF turned a blind eye to abuse suffered by the  young people in this story.

Things got significantly better when Bob Butterworth and then George Sheldon ran the agency.  Not good enough, but better.  Fewer children were needlessly taken, so there was more room in good foster homes for children who really needed them.

But then the Miami Herald, or rather one reporter in particular, sought to exploit the Barahona tragedy to encourage a return to something more like the take-the-child-and-run approach of the Kearney years.  Entries into care are going up again - and that means foster homes soon may be overcrowded and abuse in foster care is likely to increase.

As for privatization, which somehow got shoehorned into the story – that has nothing to do with any of this; it’s not why the system got better, and it’s why it’s now getting worse again.

The young people in this video paid the price of foster-care panic.  That’s why it’s so urgent for the current DCF leadership to stop the needless removals and stand up to the Herald

For a summary of how DCF's failed response to the Barahona tragedy has made all Florida children less safe, see our op ed column in The Palm Beach Post.

And see below for the definitive data showing that that the Herald's claims about child abuse fatalities in Florida are false.


            The latest annual report of the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee shows that in 2010, when, as in 2009, removals of children from their homes in Florida were at their lowest in more than a decade, the number of deaths of children previously known to DCF plummeted to 41 – the lowest figure since 2003.

            In other words, even as a reporter for the Miami Herald was exploiting the Barahona tragedy to claim that curbing needless removal of children was increasing child abuse deaths, the facts on the ground were proving precisely the opposite.  Between 2008 and 2010 deaths of children “known to the system” in Florida have been cut by nearly half.
            Of course, neither the Herald nor anyone else had access to the 2010 figures until now.  The Review Committee releases its reports one year after the year it studies.   But we already knew that the 2009 total was down from 2008, and we knew that past increases were the result of changes in how child abuse deaths are defined. 

            Now there is even more evidence that the facts are precisely the opposite of what the Miami Herald claimed.  The Herald should have the decency to finally retract it’s Feb. 27, 2011 story.

            Full details, links, and citations are available here.
And for an overview of how the Herald botched this story and helped make all Florida children less safe, see our Home Page.

            The question now is: What next?  Will David Wilkins learn from these data and move to curb the 13 percent increase in removals in 2011 that threatens to undermine Florida’s gains?


            Nearly a year after Carol Marbin Miller first offered up her Grand Unifying Theories to try to explain the Barahona tragedy, newly-released documents confirm what we’ve said all along.  It wasn’t a Vast Family Preservation Conspiracy that led to the death of Nubia Barahona and the near death of her brother.  It wasn’t a bias toward quick adoptions, either.

            A story in the Herald today shows that horrifyingly-mundane buck-passing between the police and DCF squandered the crucial hours when it still was possible to save Nubia.  The police said call DCF.  DCF said call the police.  The Broward County Sheriff said sorry,  not our county.

            So unless one believes the police, the sheriff and DCF all were secretly conspiring to keep families together “at all costs,” or to promote a mad rush to adoption “at all costs,” that should be the final nail in the coffin for the theory presented as fact, with no dissent allowed, by Carol Marbin Miller.

            Sooner or later the truth usually catches up.  But for a lot of children it’s too late.  As the leading journalistic proponent of a child welfare philosophy that can best be called “Kearney Lite” and de facto spokeswoman for what can best be called the “Kearney DCF-in-exile,” Miller’s gotten pretty much what she wanted. 

            There hasn’t been the kind of full-scale foster-care panic that disgraced former DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney demanded and got in 1999, when entries into care soared by 50 percent in a year.  That didn’t happen in part because other media, to their great credit, simply refused to buy the Grand Unifying Theories the Herald news side was selling.  But Miller and her allies, Andrea Moore, the former executive director of Florida’s Children First, and Cheleene Schembera, once described by another Herald writer as “the ultimate DCF product” when that was no compliment, managed to increase the number of children torn from their parents by 12 percent, reversing four years of reductions. 

            As noted in the previous update, below, that increase is partly the result of failed leadership by the current DCF Secretary, David Wilkins.

            I’m sure Miller would argue that this is simply restoring “middle ground” because the “pendulum had swung too far” toward keeping families together. 

            But all evidence says otherwise.  Independent evaluations show that the reductions in entries into care were accompanied by improvements in child safety.  Indeed, a new federal report on child welfare waivers across the country shows how remarkably successful Florida has been.  (See the chart on page 27).

            And a 12 percent increase in entries would mean the number of children taken from their parents in Florida is more than 20 percent above the national average – and roughly double the rate of states that are, relatively speaking, models for keeping children safe, when rates of child poverty are factored in.

            The burden of “Kearney Lite” is falling heavily on Florida’s children.


One of the hardest jobs for any reporter is getting people to speak honestly, on the record, about a powerful public figure.  So I’m not surprised that just about everybody rushed to sing the praises of David Wilkins in a story in the Tallahassee Democrat Sunday.  The reasons for not going on the record are obvious.  At the same time good reporters don’t allow people to take potshots anonymously.  If any such critics are out there, the Democrat was right not to use their comments without their names.

So the only dissent was from some grumpy guy from out-of-state who does no business in the state of Florida and is not subject to any retaliation.  That would be me.

But it was notable that even the praise dealt largely with what a great guy Wilkins is and how much he cares – not what he’s actually accomplished.

I have no idea if he’s a great guy or not.  All evidence suggests he really does care about kids. 

But the key part of his plan for “fixing” DCF won’t work, and he’s sending a terrible message to the frontlines – a message that is likely to keep Florida in its current retreat from real reform.  That’s the lesson from seven months of Florida data and the real-world experience of other states.


Ever since the story of the death of Nubia Barahona broke, NCCPR has been tracking entries into care in Florida, to see if the Miami Herald’s attempt to exploit the tragedy to return to a version of the Kathleen Kearney take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare would succeed.

Statewide, in the seven months from March through September 2011 entries into foster care are up by 12 percent over the same period in 2010.

On the one hand, that’s a lot better than many other states have done after high-profile child abuse deaths – and far better than Florida did in 1999 after the death of Kayla McKean.

I think there are several reasons for this:

● While Wilkins didn’t try to stop the panic, he didn’t encourage it either, unlike Kearney in 1999, who demanded that DCF workers take away more children.

But that alone doesn’t explain it.  After Nixzmary Brown died in New York City, Wilkins’ counterpart, John Mattingly, didn’t demand that workers take more kids, he essentially behaved like Wilkins, and entries into care soared.  The same thing happened in the same way as a result of a foster-care panic fueled by shoddy reporting in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

So there also must be other reasons why Florida is different:

● The waiver.  In Florida, if entries into foster care shoot up, the federal government won’t help pay for the increased placements; the state has to do it on its own.

● The strong leadership of Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon.  After Nubia Barahona died, people actually understood that, the tragedy notwithstanding, Butterworth and Sheldon left Florida with a much better DCF than what they found when they started.  So it was harder for the Herald and others to stampede people into believing the Barahona case meant “nothing had changed.”

● A more mature media.  When the Herald tried to sell the false claim that working to keep families together contributed to the Barahona case and other tragedies, no other newspaper bought it, and some, at least tacitly, debunked it.

On the other hand: I believe that David Wilkins could have cut the 12 percent statewide increase by at least half and maybe prevented it entirely.  Leadership makes a huge difference, and that can be seen not only in the statewide total but also the county-by-county breakdown.

While statewide, the increase in entries is 12 percent, in Palm Beach County the panic has been horrendous – with entries soaring by 63 percent.  There is no excuse for the kind of lousy leadership in Palm Beach County that allows that to happen, and no excuse for Wilkins allowing that kind of lousy leadership to continue.

The same is true in Sarasota County, where the increase has been 51 percent.

Aside from all the harm done to the children needlessly removed, that’s also likely to cause a huge increase in the workload for caseworkers, so they’ll have even less time to find children in real danger.  And how long will it be until we start hearing again about unsafe, overcrowded foster homes and children trapped in “shelters” or even DCF offices?

In contrast, even as entries soared in Palm Beach Counties, they actually went down in Orange County.  They recently transferred the “lead agency” contract to a new group.  Odds are, strong leadership from that new lead agency has something to do with the fact that Orange County has not been stampeded into foster-care panic.

In contrast, David Wilkins isn’t showing the kind of leadership Florida needs right now.

As a result, the heart of Wilkins’ plan to fix DCF will only make things worse:  Wilkins seems to be betting everything on a caseworker hiring binge.  Four large child welfare systems have tried Wilkins’ approach since 2005.  Three of them failed because their hiring was a knee-jerk response to high-profile tragedies designed to make the agencies and political leaders look good in a hurry.

The hiring failed because those same tragedies had caseworkers running scared, so they rushed to tear apart more families.  That increased both caseloads and the amount of work per case.  All the new workers wound up chasing all the new cases.  The result: The same lousy systems only bigger.

It happened that way in Texas, Indiana and New York City.  Yet Wilkins is repeating the same mistake. 

For starters, until Sunday, when I raised the issue in the Tallahassee Democrat story, Wilkins failed to acknowledge publicly that the Florida system isn’t lousy anymore.  There’s a long way to go, but there have were vast improvements at DCF under Sheldon and Butterworth.

Wilkins showed a certain lack of class in failing to say so until, it appears, he was pressed in response to my comments.  Even then, he praises Butterworth and Sheldon only for increasing openness, an important step but only the first of many accomplishments.  One independent evaluation after another has found that the Butterworth / Sheldon reforms improved child safety.  Wilkins’ “everything-here-stank-until-I-walked-in-the-door” message only further scares the caseworkers already on the job.

Worse, Wilkins has done nothing to curb the foster-care panic that followed the death of Nubia Barahona and the near death of her brother.  As noted above, Wilkins has not actually encouraged this take-the-child-and-run approach, the way Kearney did, but he’s done nothing to stop it.

He has failed to speak out about the enormous harm of needless foster care and failed to remind his caseworkers of that harm.  And he’s failed to reassure workers that, while they will be held responsible for laziness and incompetence, they will not be scapegoated for honest error or unforeseeable tragedy. 

The one place where hiring more caseworkers succeeded teaches the same lesson.   That was New Jersey, where the hiring was just one component of a carefully thought-out reform plan, part of a class-action lawsuit settlement that emphasized avoiding needless foster care and keeping families together.

Entries into care are down 24 percent, and one report after another from the independent monitor overseeing the settlement finds that child safety has improved.

So all four places have lessons for Florida – if David Wilkins is willing to learn them.


The biggest single blunder DCF Secretary David Wilkins made in response to the Barahona tragedy now may be coming back to haunt him – and more important, coming back to harm the vulnerable children of Miami.

Jacqui Colyer, the DCF Regional Director for Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, and someone who did an outstanding job of improving a troubled region, has resigned.

The data show Colyer had an excellent track record.  During her time as regional director entries into foster care declined but there was no increase in reabuse of children “known to the system” – the standard federal measure of child safety.  In other words, Colyer spared hundreds of children the trauma of needless foster care without compromising safety.

But, of course, any time you reduce the removal of children you make powerful enemies – including the Miami Herald and the various players in the system whose word Carol Marbin Miller treats as Holy Writ.  Add to that being in charge of the region where a horror story takes place, and it would be hard for any regional director to remain on the job – especially without the unequivocal support of your boss.

Colyer’s boss proved to be The Great Equivocator.

The resignation comes five months after Wilkins “reprimanded” Colyer for -- well, for what exactly?  Apparently for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As we wrote at the time, in our March 14 update:

There is not a shred of evidence that Colyer knew or should have known of the failure on the part of DCF investigators working for her on this case during the time since she’s been the regional director.  And, of course, Colyer is not responsible for error after error in the years before she got there, or for the blunders at the hotline.  On the contrary, everything I’ve heard indicates that she stabilized a region that had been a huge trouble spot and a revolving door for regional directors in the past. 

In addition, while [an] independent review panel praised DCF officials for their candor, the panel blasted the director of the private lead agency, Our Kids, a key subcontractor, and even the subcontractor’s lawyer. …

So now, the message being sent by Wilkins is: Circling the wagons pays, candor will get you into trouble.

If Jacqui Colyer deserves a reprimand then so does every other regional director.  And when they quit, you may as well reprimand all their successors as soon as they walk in the door.  Because every region in Florida and every child welfare system in the country has some cases where the casework is just as bad as this one. … The reason that very few cases end in tragedy, even when the casework is shoddy, is the simple fact that most parents - birth parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents - are not sadists and brutes.

We’ll probably never know if the lack of support from her boss is behind Colyer’s resignation.  But you can be sure the Miami Herald will crow about it – and it will send a rotten message to the frontlines.


The most notable aspect of the grand jury report on alleged DCF and private agency failings in the Barahona case (which is available from the website of Miami NewTimes) is what the report does not say.

It does not link this tragedy in any way, shape or form to Florida’s recent child welfare reforms reducing entries into care.  It gives no support to the claims of Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller that the case is linked to some sort of overemphasis on keeping families together.

On the contrary, to the extent that there is a bias in the system, the Grand Jury says it is a bias in favor of foster and adoptive parents.  According to the report:

The sad reality is if the Barahonas had been the biological parents of Victor and Nubia, a more thorough investigation probably would have been conducted following the various reports called into the Hotline.  If the Barahonas had not been foster parents, instead of getting a “pass”, Child Protective Investigators and Case Managers might have engaged in more critical thinking as it related to the “big picture” of what was happening with the kids. [Emphasis in original]. 

This seems to have caused some problems for the Herald.

The initial Herald story, by David Ovalle, for the newspaper’s website, emphasized this very point, with the first sentence of the above quote in the fourth paragraph of a nine-graf story.  But after Carol Marbin Miller got involved and became primary author of the story for today’s paper, this angle was downplayed – the key quote winds up as the very last paragraph of a very long story.  And Ovalle’s original story appears to have disappeared from the Herald website.  (For details see the two previous posts to this page.)

The extent of DCF and Our Kids’ willful blindness to problems in a foster home can be seen in the list of warning signs that takes up nearly two full pages of the report.

The grand jury then says it again:

Had these reports and allegations been made about abuse committed by the Barahonas on their own children, DCF’s Child Protective Investigators might have done a more exhaustive inquiry [before relicensing the Barahonas as foster parents.]

While it is also true that the other big failing found by the grand jury is that no one actually had this full list all at one time, even a partial list would be enough to raise red flags about relicensing the Barahonas.  And certainly is makes inexcusable choosing them to adopt Nubia and Victor while rejecting the children’s own relatives.  (Of course the change in state law pushed by State Sen. Nan Rich and Andrea Moore also may have played a part in that).

The report’s Key failing

At the same time, the report suffers from the same failing as every report that purports to draw sweeping conclusions from one egregious case - the assumption that the failures in this case exist in many cases and lessons can be generalized.

That leads the grand jury to make some serious errors, including recommendations to treat all adoptive parents as second-class parents, required to continue to be regulated by DCF even after an adoption is finalized.  That turns adoption into just another form of foster care, and denies children the security of having adoptive parents who are their parents in every sense of the term. (For details scroll down to the April 30 update on this page.)

There’s even an appalling suggestion that any parent who chooses to home school a child should be reported to DCF for possible investigation based solely on the decision to opt for home schooling.  If there was even a single unfounded report of child abuse in that family’s past, DCF would have to launch a full-scale investigation.

Similarly, having made a good point about bias in favor of foster parents, the grand jury proposes to institutionalize a bias against them by requiring that every time a foster parent is accused of maltreatment, even if the accusation is unfounded, the foster parents should be put on “some form of probationary status…”  That is an invitation to anyone with a grudge against a foster parent to file false allegations – subjecting the entire foster family to enormous additional stress and increasing the risk that the foster child will be needlessly uprooted additional times.

Nor is there any reason to presume that any foster parent who wants to adopt is somehow mentally ill – but that is the implication of another recommendation, mandatory psychological evaluations for any foster parent who wants to adopt.

Failure to learn from experience

Other recommendations fail to consider Florida’s own past experience.

A good example of that, and the distortion that comes from focusing only on a horror story, concerns the recommendation that DCF workers have more law enforcement training because, the grand jury says, their job is primarily one of law enforcement, not social work.

But the overwhelming majority of cases are nothing like the Barahona tragedy.  Far more often they involve families lacking basic necessities because they are poor, or they may involve real family failings that are not crimes.  So social work is, in fact, the majority of the job even at this initial stage.  It’s easy to lose sight of that when focusing only on extreme cases that are extremely rare.

This recommendation also ignores the fact that in several counties law enforcement already does this job – and there is no indication that children are any more, or less, safe in those counties.  Nor is there any indication that the overall quality of work with families is better – or worse. 

So while carrying out the law enforcement recommendations in the report won’t do any harm per se they appear to be a waste of limited resources.

Similarly, there is a recommendation that Our Kids, the privatized lead agency in Miami-Dade reorganize itself to handle some cases itself, as is done by the lead agency in Broward County.  But Broward County has been hit with horror stories just like Miami, and there is no indication that the overall quality of the work there is better than in Miami.  So why bother with a reorganization when there is so much work to do that is so much more pressing?

A bias of suspicion is as bad as a bias of trust

Over and over the report criticizes what it calls a “bias of trust” in favor of the Barahonas.  And at one point, the report affirms the correct alternative.  According to the report DCF child protective investigators (CPIs):

are supposed to come into the situation with no bias to believe or disbelieve any one person [Emphasis in original].

But then the grand jury contradicts itself, stating just a couple of pages later that

“…all CPIs must enter a case with a healthy dose of suspicion.”

On the contrary, few things have done more harm to children than their wrongful removal from everyone they know and love because of the mentality that anyone accused is a suspect and anyone investigated by DCF is guilty until proven innocent.

Unfortunately, this mentality dominates the report, with specific recommendations mandating that all foster parents, all adoptive parents, and even every parent who opts for home schooling should be treated as guilty until proven innocent.  The overall message of the report is that this same suspicion should apply to just about everyone.

That is a formula not only for needless removal of children but also needlessly prolonging the harm of foster care and, of course, further overloading caseworkers so they are less likely to find children in real danger.

The risk of overgeneralizing

But if it is wrong to draw general conclusions from one case, doesn’t that also encompass the conclusion that there is a general bias in favor of foster and adoptive parents?

As a matter of fact, yes.  A conclusion with which I happen to agree is no more valid than the others when based solely on one case.  I draw the conclusion based on this case, and the hundreds of others I’ve seen over 35 years of following child welfare.

But what makes the grand jury finding significant even standing alone is simply the fact it found nothing in this one horror story to support the opposite conclusion, the one about a bias in favor of birth parents, that was pushed so long and so hard by the Miami Herald.


The previous post deals with a Miami Herald story about a grand jury report on DCF and private agency failings in the Barahona case.  That story, by reporter David Ovalle, emphasized the grand jury’s conclusion that caseworkers applied a double standard, giving the Barahonas, who were adoptive parents, far less scrutiny than birth parents typically receive.

In the original nine paragraph story, for the Herald website, this was paragraph 4:

“The sad reality is if the Barahonas had been the biological parents of Victor and Nubia, a more thorough investigation probably would have been conducted following the various reports called into the Hotline,” the report said

But the much longer story for tomorrow's paper, with Carol Marbin Miller’s byline first, is very different.  It still notes the fact that caseworkers were far too credulous in dealing with the Barahonas.  But the comparison to birth parents is buried in the very last paragraph of a long, long story.  Miller, of course, is the reporter who made the bizarre attempt to link the Barahona tragedy to efforts to keep families together.

And while it is often the case that earlier published versions of stories remain available on newspaper websites, Ovalle’s original story seems to have disappeared from the Herald website.  (Fortunately, we printed a copy first).


            After the Miami Herald spent months trying to blame the death of Nubia Barahona and the near death of her brother, Victor, on DCF supposedly bending over backwards for birth families, the Herald reports that a Miami-Dade Grand Jury reached the opposite conclusion: Precisely because the Barahonas were adoptive parents, they were less suspect, and reports alleging maltreatment were taken less seriously than had they been birth parents.  (UPDATE: As is noted in the post above, this version of the Herald story no longer seems to be available on the newspaper's website.)

            The Grand Jury concluded that: 

The sad reality is if the Barahonas had been the biological parents of Victor and Nubia, a more thorough investigation probably would have been conducted following the various reports called into the Hotline.

            This does not mean that DCF should now go to the opposite extreme, as some have suggested, and subject adoptive parents to all sorts of regulations that don’t apply to birth parents.  That would turn adoption into nothing but foster care by another name.

            But we can add the grand jury’s finding to a long list of sad ironies – not least the fact that the Herald’s shoddy coverage of the case contributed to a spike in needless removals of children, putting those children in more danger than had the Herald covered all sides of the story and not distorted its coverage to fit one reporter’s preconceived notions.

            And then there’s the irony that the Herald’s Godsource for child welfare stories, Andrea Moore, former executive director of Florida’s Children First, and State Sen. Nan Rich,  pushed a change in Florida law that may have encouraged a judge to place Nubia and Victor. with the Barahonas, instead of with loving relatives.


…and there’s more than enough hypocrisy to go around.

There was a time when I would have no trouble assuming that a story with Carol Marbin Miller’s byline was true.  I can’t do that anymore.  I have to wonder if it’s simply Miller pushing an agenda and whether there are facts left out that would change the story significantly.

But if her story in the Herald today is correct, then it’s exactly the kind of Florida-style idiocy that really can harm children, and undermine the state’s reform effort.

The story reports that Florida is giving up $50 million in child abuse prevention funds – not because lawmakers think the program involved, Healthy Families Florida is bad per se, but because, God forbid, it’s administered as part of the new health care law.  Another $100 million in aid to education may be jeopardized for similar reasons.

Healthy Families programs generally produce good results.  When you send a nurse to do the home visits, the results are even better. Guess what that $50 million would have paid for.

Of course some extreme right-wingers do oppose the Healthy Families program per se – again, assuming they are being quoted or paraphrased accurately.  According to the story:

State Sen. Joe Negron, who chairs his chamber’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said he long has been philosophically opposed to Healthy Families, which he views as an intrusion into the private lives of parents.

Here’s a news flash, Senator: Healthy Families is voluntary.  No one has to take part if they don’t want to.  On the other hand, when families don’t get help and wind up actually abusing their children, then it’s DCF that comes to the door – and that’s not voluntary, that’s the full coercive power of “big government.”  So behold Joe Negron, big government  conservative.

But the hypocrisy isn’t limited to the right.  State Sen. Nan Rich is cited as saying that giving up the funds will hurt children.  But it was Rich who pushed to change Florida law to encourage custody decisions like the one that ultimately sent Nubia Barahona to her death. 

The only silver lining in all this is that, unlike every other state, Florida has a limit to how far even its current legislature can cut.  That’s because of its pioneering waiver from federal foster care funding rules.  The waiver includes a “maintenance of effort” provision.  Cut too much in state funding and all the federal funding is lost.   (By the way, among those who opposed the waiver: Sen. Rich and Carol Marbin Miller’s Godsource, Andrea Moore, the former executive director of Florida’s Children First.)

So far, that’s been enough to deter even the Florida legislature.

So far.


Can’t blame this on the Herald – it’s DCF’s own bad move.  According to this story in The Tampa Tribune, as part of the new test-welfare-recipients-for-drugs initiative, if the test is positive they get no actual help – but they are reported to the state child abuse hotline.

DCF claims it’s not necessarily a child abuse investigation; the implication is that this is part of Florida’s “differential response” initiative, in which less serious allegations called into the hotline get an agency coming to the door offering help instead of DCF coming to the door to investigate.  Differential response is a good idea – but not for calls which never should have been made to the hotline at all.

Once the call comes in, the hotline operator will decide whether to use differential response or accept it for a full-scale investigation. Those operators are under enormous pressure right now to screen in calls that should be screened out and require caseworkers to investigate cases that shouldn’t be investigated.

So now anyone who smokes a joint risks a DCF investigation – and their child risks being taken away.  Well, not really anyone - only those who are so poor they’re applying for welfare.  And caseworkers risk missing more children in real danger while they check out pot-smoking potential welfare recipients.


            The number of children taken from their parents in May was almost identical to the number taken in April.  That means Florida is still taking children at a rate 16 percent above the rate before the foster-care panic began. But that’s still better than the 32 percent increase during the first month of the panic.

            Palm Beach County is now back where it was before the panic.  We can only hope that’s a permanent improvement.  But the rate of removal in Broward County and Miami-Dade County remains far above where it was before the Herald started its campaign to return Florida to a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare.

For full region-by-region figures for March, see our full report here.


GOOD NEWS: In April the rate of foster-care panic was cut in half.  Entries into care still are up, but the increase in April was 16 percent above the average for the year before the panic began.  That compares to a 32 percent increase in March.  That suggests that both inside DCF and in newsrooms across Florida people are not buying the snake oil that the Miami Herald tried to sell. 

But while the statewide figure is down, the panic actually has worsened in Palm Beach County - where it was worst to begin with.  In April, removals were DOUBLE the average for the year before the panic.  There is an urgent need for better leadership in that county.

For full region-by-region figures for march, see our full report here.


This time it’s Sally Kestin, probably the only reporter in Florida who has followed child welfare for as long as Carol Marbin Miller.

Kestin has a story today about the fact that child welfare spending has gone up since privatization.  But the story also shows that the increased investment – and the Florida child welfare reforms – are paying off.  Some highlights from the story:

The bottom line: Florida spends more today on child welfare despite caring for far fewer foster children. That's because of a shift in favor of preventing abuse and keeping families together.

It's also due to Florida's low spending before privatization, when the state's abysmal performance was reflected in the high number of child deaths and burgeoning foster care population.

The Legislature began putting more money into child welfare under Gov. Jeb Bush, … "We doubled the state funding, which was woefully underfunded, when I became governor,'' Bush said in an email to the Sun Sentinel. Spending went up because much-needed services "weren't being provided, and now they are,'' Bush said. …

For many, the added expenditure is well worth it, considering the benefits to Florida children and families.  "The issue of cost to me is secondary,'' said former Democratic Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, who lost to Bush in the 1998 governor's race and ran DCF for four months in 1993.

Improving Florida's track record of protecting vulnerable kids was the top priority of privatization, said MacKay from his home near Ocala. "I think it's one of the finest things that has happened,'' he said. …

Much of the resulting savings [from reducing foster care] is now spent on helping families stay together when possible so children are not separated from their parents. The state is just beginning to track how that prevention money is being spent, and its effects.

By many existing yardsticks, the private agencies are doing better than the state did. Adoptions are up 200 percent, kids are being returned from foster care to their families faster and fewer children are harmed again once they go home, statistics show. [Emphasis added.]

''It definitely costs more to do the job right,'' said DCF Secretary David Wilkins. …

And the Sun-Sentinel story shows, once again, that the Herald got it flat wrong.  In child welfare, no state is doing the job right.  But thanks to the reforms, Florida is doing things a lot less wrong than it used to.  Sadly, the foster-care panic set off by the Herald’s shoddy reporting is jeopardizing those reforms.


In this day and age, when newspapers almost never compete head-to-head in the same city, it’s highly unusual for one news organization to, in effect, rebuke another.  But the Associated Press in Florida effectively did just that to the Miami Herald in a story yesterday.

The story actually was about privatization of child welfare in Florida.  But in noting signs that the Florida system was making progress, it included this key paragraph:

“Child abuse deaths for those who had a history with the department have remained steady at about 70 a year since 2006, when the state's current criteria that included accidental drowning and suffocations where a sleeping adult rolled on top of a child were adopted.”

This is, of course, a direct repudiation of the Herald’s false claim that such deaths had increased after Florida’s reforms.  The AP analysis also is exactly what we’ve been saying on this website.

Although not mentioned in the story we also know, of course, that, independent evaluations show that overall child safety in Florida has improved.

The story says there is only a widespread “feeling” that privatization has improved Florida child welfare.  But there is solid evidence that the system has improved. Whether privatization deserves the credit is an open question.

In addition, the AP story makes solid points about the need for more accountability on the part of the private agencies.

The story erred in relying for any kind of evaluation on Andrea Moore, the former director of Florida’s Children First, a strong supporter of the Kearney take-the-child-and-run approach  and a “Godsource” for the Herald’s distorted reporting.

Though like most in child welfare, Moore means well, her poor judgment is made clear by the fact that she was a prime mover behind legislation that actually may have contributed to the Barahona tragedy.  


It sure sounds like it, judging from a story in today’s Palm Beach Post.

The story discusses a plan by Our Kids, the private agency that screwed up in the Barahona case.  The plan supposedly will reduce the chances of their screwing up again.

Most of the changes appear to pass the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy test – that is, they’re mostly harmless.  But one could be a disaster.  Especially since DCF Secretary David Wilkins says he’s enthusiastic about the plan and wants to take it statewide.

The story offers no details, but notes that the plan includes “extending supervision to disabled children even after they are adopted.”  Later the story says that “Our Kids, in its action plan, proposes extending oversight and services to disabled children even after they are adopted.”

But the main difference, arguably the only difference, between foster care and adoption is that with adoption, the government is out of your life, unless you are accused of abusing the child.  Once the child is adopted, government workers can’t barge in whenever they feel like, inspect your home, stripsearch your children – and perhaps walk out with one or more of them – unless someone has at least called the state child abuse hotline to accuse you of maltreating them.  Our kids proposes to erase this distinction, effectively abolishing adoption of disabled children. 

It was bad enough when Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Miami), missed this fundamental point when she proposed additional oversight of adoptive families.  As we wrote on this blog in our March 24 update:

The whole point of adoption is to provide a child with permanence and security identical to that of a child living with her or his birth parents.  The adoptive parents are the child’s parents.  Period.  End of story.  After an adoption is finalized the child even gets a new birth certificate, with the names of the new parents as her or his parents.  With no asterisk saying “well, not really” and no caveat indicating that adoptive parents are second class parents and adopted children are second-class citizens subject to more government monitoring than the rest of us.

Among the most vital elements in making an adoptive family a real family is ending the oppressive supervision that comes with having a child welfare agency in your life.  No adopted child can feel fully secure if the government is checking up on mom and dad on a regular basis, and it’s harder for adoptive parents to give children the love and security they deserve if they’re always looking over their shoulder, fearful of a government agency.

And, while there is compelling evidence that the rate of abuse in foster homes group homes and institutions is far higher than the rate in the general population, that is not true of adoptive homes.

The problems in the Barahona case had nothing to do with adoption per se – rather, they had to do with who was allowed to adopt Nubia and her brother Victor – and who was not.  Loving relatives were turned down. The problems will not be solved by turning the whole concept of adoption into just a glorified form of foster care.

And why stop with adoptive parents?  Presumably the plan calls for intensified supervision of disabled children because they are more difficult to raise.  By that “logic” shouldn’t there be intensive government supervision of every parent of a disabled child from the moment that child is born?

The plan apparently calls for services as well as supervision.  And, indeed, most parents of disabled children will welcome extra help.  But the services should be available on a voluntary basis, with no strings attached.

Of course, even if all these changes are enacted, we’ll never really know if they make a difference.  The Miami Herald will see to that.  Here’s how:

Since no child welfare system anywhere in the world can prevent every tragedy, you can be sure that, at some point after these changes are enacted, another child will die a horrible death.  At that point the Herald will offer up a front-page story about how this death supposedly proves  that the reforms enacted in the wake of the Barahona tragedy didn’t work.


Even worse than the plan to effectively abolish adoption of disabled children is Wilkins’ misplaced priorities.  He declares that “The problems that we identified from this tragedy are my number one priority. It's going to be my focus probably for my whole administration."

But precisely because horror stories are extreme aberrations, the problems they reveal are unlikely to be either the most pervasive or the most pressing.  If you focus primarily on those problems you simply increase the odds of overlooking the as-yet-unidentified failing that will cause the next horror story.

Indeed, the biggest cause of child abuse tragedies is overloading the system with children who don’t need to be there.  So Wilkins’ number one priority should be curbing the foster-care panic that the Miami Herald started.  (See previous update).


Removals are increasing 50 percent faster than calls to the hotline.  To see what’s happening in your part of the state, click here.

            Carol Marbin Miller of The Miami Herald and her friends in the “Kearney DCF-in-exile” have gotten exactly what they wanted: a foster-care panic.

            The  number of children torn from their families soared 32 percent in Florida in March 2011, when compared to the average for the previous 12 months.  The increase was almost identical when March, 2011 simply is compared with March, 2010. 

            The only good news: The panic isn’t as bad as the one fomented by Kearney herself in 1999.

We’ve prepared a report with full details here, including a chart with data for every part of the state.  Though almost no place is unaffected, some regions have done a far better job of curbing the panic than others.

            The panic has been worst in Palm Beach County where removals soared by 70 percent.  Unfortunately, The Palm Beach Post is reporting today, the current DCF leadership has reacted by rounding up the usual excuses:

            Phony excuse #1: It’s only because more people are calling the hotline.
            Fact: Removals went up at a rate 50 percent faster than the increase in calls to the hotline.  And during a foster-care panic a greater proportion of hotline calls are likely to be false reports, since people are encouraged to report even their most outlandish suspicious.

            Phony excuse #2: The figures must be wrong.
            Even though the figures are from DCF itself, Palm Beach County DCF spokeswoman Elisa Cramer says some of the removals shouldn’t count because children were moved from foster home to foster home.  But as the Post story makes clear, even when those removals are taken out, entries into care soared by 60 percent.

            More alarming, Cramer suggests that it shouldn’t count if a child was torn from everyone she or he knows and loves “for short time periods for emergency reasons.”  That shows a total lack of understanding of child development and the trauma of removal itself.

            Children don’t sense time the way adults do – the younger the child the more slowly it  passes.  For a very young child a few days can be like months or years.  For a newborn confiscated at birth, it’s a lifetime.  Since you can’t explain to a very young child why everyone she or he knows or loves suddenly has disappeared he may feel it’s somehow his fault, or he may feel as he would if he were being kidnapped.  And a child is not a library book that can simply be returned undamaged.  The trauma can last a lifetime.

            The federal government says any removal of a child for more than 24 hours must be counted as an entry into foster care.  That’s because they understand what Palm Beach County DCF apparently does not: You may be sure it “counts” to the child.

            Phony excuse #3: We have to do it to keep children safe.
            That is the most dangerous excuse of all.  It underestimates not only the inherent harm of needless removal, but also the high risk of abuse in foster care itself.  Several studies have found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of all foster homes, and the record of group homes and institutions is worse.

            And, of course, the more you overload a foster care system the more dangerous it gets, as workers lower standards for foster parents and overcrowd foster homes.  Ms. Cramer doesn’t say where DCF plans to put all those Palm Beach County children if the panic doesn’t stop.

            In addition, all the time spent taking children needlessly is stolen from finding children in real danger.  That’s why foster-care panics make all children less safe.
            For full details on the Florida Foster Care Panic of 2011, see our full report here.


Even by Carol Marbin Miller’s low standards her latest story, posted on the Herald website this evening, is sleazy. 

The story tries to connect the death of another foster child, Gabriel Myers, to a policy promoted by former DCF Secretary George Sheldon to try to clear away bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult for foster children to lead normal lives. 

The notion is preposterous for a number of reasons, but one, in particular, stands out:

Gabriel Myers died on April 16, 2009.  The normalcy policy was issued on September 3, 2010.  Had Miller bothered to check, she could have found the memo here. (At least I hope she just didn’t bother to check.  It would be worse if she knew this and wrote the story this way anyway).

And, of course, the normalcy policy says nothing about it being o.k. to leave a child with an incapable caretaker, as happened in this case.

In contrast, Miller has systematically ignored a case in which a policy actually came before a tragedy and really may have contributed.  That might have something to do with the fact that one of the biggest backers of that policy, Andrea Moore, also is one of Miller’s favorite sources.  That story is on this website here.  

The real lessons from the Myers case are about the misuse and overuse of psychiatric medications and the fact that the more children you place in foster care the less choosy you can be about who is a foster parent - one more reason to avoid taking children needlessly from everyone they know and love.


On Sunday, The Palm Bach Post took on almost exactly the same issue as the Herald in the story discussed in the previous update: The cycle of horror-story-to-OBRC (Obligatory Blue Ribbon commission)-to-reform-recommendations-to-horror-story.  Were I still teaching journalism, as I did for three years in the 1990s, I’d hand out both stories to my students because the contrast is so striking.

Instead of simply suggesting that the fact that horror stories still exist means nothing has changed, as the Herald did, the Post took a much more careful, nuanced look.  “Some solutions have survived and helped keep children safe,” wrote reporter Ana Valdes. “Others have lapsed or proven ineffective, experts said.”

Then the story looks at what worked and, in more detail, what didn’t - either because recommendations were ignored or not properly implemented.

Even the Post story fails to get to the question of whether trying to learn only or predominantly from horror stories is the best way to learn at all, something discussed in the previous update, below.  A former DCF assistant secretary, Don Winstead, hints at the issue in his comment toward the end of the piece.   

But the Post story is far more useful to readers than the one in the Herald. One comes away from the Herald story believing nothing will ever work, so why bother even reading about DCF?   In contrast, readers of the Post get a roadmap indicating the reasons for failure and what might lead to fewer failures in the future.


Florida’s vulnerable children are 30 percent safer under recent reforms; but the Herald would rather look at 13 horror stories than three million cases.

One of the things that can be counted on in the age of the internet is that any story involving social services will being out the virtual lynch mob, the online gathering of racists and yahoos, attacking any racial or ethnic minority that may be even tangentially involved in the case – and, of course, demanding that all poor women be sterilized.

One theme of the online Klan meetings fostered by the Herald’s child welfare coverage has been the notion that absolutely nothing has changed at DCF.  And why should it?  After all, according to the lynch mob, the whole place is filled with “lazy” workers “incompetents” “affirmative action hires” etc.

While one might expect nothing better from the mob, one ought to expect that mainstream journalists would refrain from pandering to it.  Unfortunately, that was too much to expect of The Miami Herald.

Carol Marbin Miller’s story today reinforced the bias of the virtual lynch mob.  It recounts a series of horrifying deaths of children “known to the system” – 13 of them since 1985. Then the story describes how most cases were followed by what I have come to call Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commissions (OBRCs) which made recommendations, often including a law with a child’s name on it.  And yet somehow, a few years later, DCF made exactly the same mistake.  The moral of the story: DCF never learns, never changes.

Not only is that crap, it’s dangerous crap, since it means there’s really no reason for anyone to read about DCF anymore since nothing will ever change anyway.  It leads to precisely the numbness that one Herald columnist says set in after the Rilya Wilson case.  And it allows bad DCF leaders to engage in “despair mongering” – telling the public that since all child welfare systems have these problems, they should lower their expectations.

Here’s the problem with the Herald’s thesis:

During the same 25 years that these 13 horror stories took place, caseworkers for DCF probably investigated three million allegations of child maltreatment.  That’s a conservative estimate – the real figure might be closer to four million.

How in the world could anyone expect to know if DCF got better or worse at handling three million cases based on 13 examples of the worst possible failure?

Carol Marbin Miller has written hundreds, perhaps well over a thousand news stories.  Would anyone be able to tell if she’s become a better or a worse journalist by looking only at her 13 biggest screw-ups?

Suppose the Herald decided to evaluate every employee that way - based solely on their worst blunders, with no measure of whether they were blundering more often or less often, and no evaluation of their overall performance.  Would readers get a better newspaper?

But that’s how Miller seems to want to evaluate DCF.  So, for example, Miller writes that after the Rilya Wilson case, DCF required that caseworkers notify law enforcement immediately when they think a child is missing.  But several years later, in another horror story case, that didn’t happen.  Which tells us exactly nothing.  What we need to know is: How has the percentage of cases in which DCF notified law enforcement changed?  Did it go up or down?  That’s how you know if agency performance on that particular measure got better or worse.


The only way to know if DCF is getting better or worse is to look at typical cases.  One way to do that is by looking at a random sample of cases every year for several years and watching to see if performance gets better or worse.  But you need a large enough sample to be truly representative.  That’s likely to be expensive, especially in a state the size of Florida.  Also, you need truly objective experts to read the cases.

Another way is to commission an independent evaluation that looks at data on overall state performance.  Florida did that as part of its Child First waiver.  The evaluations conclude that, as entries into care have declined in recent years, child safety improved.

Still another way is to see for ourselves based on the standard federal government measure of safety: Reabuse of children within six months.

During Florida’s Years of Panic, the era of Kathleen Kearney and her immediate successors, when child removal was at its height, an average of 9.2 percent of children were reabused within six months.  During the Years of Reform, when Bob Butterworth and George Sheldon led the agency, reabuse fell to an average of 6.3 percent.[1]  In other words child safety improved by 30 percent.

In fact, any objective look at the past 25 years shows that the system got worse during the Years of Panic, and then it got better during the Years of Reform.

Part of the reason it got worse is the absurd notion that you can generalize from horror story cases.

The worst example of this is the response to the 1998 death of Kayla McKean.

Miller recites some of the recommendations from the OBRC created after Kayla’s death that did, in fact, become law, specifically the “Kayla McKean Child Protection Act.”  She doesn’t tell readers what happened next. But we did, in the second of our reports on Florida child welfare, published in 2001:

The problem begins at the state’s child abuse hotline.  The hotline was swamped with 180,000 calls in 2000, 59,000 more calls than the year before.  That’s partly because of the general atmosphere of hysteria caused by the policies and pronouncements coming from DCF.  It’s also a function of what was formerly the Kayla McKean law.
            That law toughened penalties against certain professionals known as “mandated reporters,” who fail to report even a suspicion of maltreatment.  So now, terrified mandated reporters are more likely to send in reports even when they don’t really believe there was maltreatment at all.
            The law also says that reports from doctors, teachers and other school officials can’t be screened out by the hotline.  Every one of these reports, no matter how absurd, must be passed on to the regions for a full-scale investigation.
            And even where hotline workers have discretion, they are afraid to use it.  As a result, 95 percent of all reports are passed on for investigation.
            But according to a state-mandated study of the hotline, at least 35 percent of those calls should have been screened out.  As a result, the study concludes, workers have less time for each investigation, increasing the likelihood that serious abuse will be missed.
            “The hotline is supposed to be a gate,” the researcher who conducted the study said.  “They’ve got the gate rusted, stuck open.”  As a result, cases pile up, creating a backlog of uncompleted investigations.
            “I equate that to the game of playing Russian roulette.  It’s just a matter of time before some child in the backlog pool is really badly injured.”[2]
The author of the report, hand-picked by Kathleen Kearney, is at least as fanatical in his opposition to family preservation as she was.  So you can bet the real figure was a lot higher than 35 percent.

Another egregious provision of the law required so-called “medical evaluations” in every case.  That was a euphemism for a stripsearch by total strangers, looking for bruises.  Originally, it was required even when the allegation was “neglect.”       

In that excerpt I refer to the law as “what was formerly the Kayla McKean law.”  That’s because Kayla’s own grandfather became so disgusted with the harm the law was doing that he demanded his grandchild’s name be removed.

As I said in a previous update: It’s been said that “hard cases make bad law.”  But it’s the laws some people think up in the wake of horror stories that really stink.

And finally, there’s something else Carol Marbin Miller left out.  The oldest of the horror stories she describes, from all the way back in 1985, involves a foster child, Corey Greer.

Miller writes:

Corey was four months old and living in a Treasure Island foster home licensed for four children — but brimming with eight more. His caregivers neglected to turn on his heart monitor, and left him alone in a stiflingly hot room.

But there’s a bit more to it than that.  Corey Greer might have survived the overcrowding, if only he had been white.  According to a witness at the foster mother's trial, the foster mother said that touching black children "just gives me the willies."  According to the witness, the foster mother referred to Corey Greer as "a big black blob."[3]

Guess that wouldn’t have gone over too well with the virtual lynch mob.

[1] The figures are included in the annual Child Maltreatment reports compiled for the federal government.  2000 to 2004: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm04/table3_18.htm, Table 3-18,  2005 to 2009:  http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm09/cm09.pdf, see Table 3-17.  Note that the format is different in the two tables.  The first reports the percentage of children who were reabused, the second the percentage who were not reabused.

[2] Shana Gruskin, “Child abuse workers call for curbs on hotline,” Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, January 14, 2001

[3] Diana Smith, "Foster Baby's Death Spurs Corrective Action by State," Associated Press Dec. 8, 1985, "Race Issue Raised in Baby's Death," United Press International, Oct. 22, 1986," Woman Faces Seven Years in Foster Child's Death," Associated Press, June 13, 1988.


The first victims of the distorted reporting of The Miami Herald may be a three year old boy named Jemarcus and his 16-month-old brother Rodgerick.

One year ago, their mother was shot to death by their father – in front of the children.

As WSVN-TV reports (and please play back the actual video to get the full sense of the story), the mother’s father stepped up and stepped in; taking care of the children ever since. 

Yet now, DCF and its private lead agency in Miami, “Our Kids,” want to tear the children away from the grandfather and try to have them adopted by strangers.  The grandfather is fighting the decision, which is not yet final.

No, the grandfather does not have a criminal record.  No, he has not been accused of child abuse.  DCF and Our Kids apparently have absolutely no concern about with how the grandfather is caring for the children now.  So what’s the problem?  He’s 62 and has diabetes.

Presumably, DCF and Our Kids are concerned that, as the grandfather ages, he won’t be able to care for the children without help -  or maybe not at all.  Or maybe he’ll die before they turn 18.

All of those things might happen.  Just as the presumably younger, healthier strangers DCF and Our Kids want to find might adopt the children and then die in an auto accident. 

So because these children might lose their grandfather years from now, DCF and Our Kids apparently figure: Why not tear the family apart right now?

But these children can’t afford to lose the one constant in their lives, especially not now.  Tear these children away from grandpa now and the three-year-old is likely to think that he is somehow to blame for his mother’s death.  That’s how children think at this age: Mom died, and now I’m being punished by being taken from grandpa, so it must be my fault.

The trauma is likely to be severe even if there is only one move, straight into the home of loving strangers.  But that’s not likely.  More likely they’ll bounce from foster home to foster home, emerging years later unable to love or trust anyone.  And while abuse in adoptive homes is rare, abuse in foster homes and institutions is not – study after study shows that the rate of abuse in foster care is far higher than in the general population and far higher than shown in official figures.

So what’s really behind this? 

There’s no way to know for sure.  All child welfare agencies make bad decisions in all directions.  DCF and its privatized lead agencies make fewer bad decisions than they used to, but it’s not as if they never did dumb things like this before the Barahona case.  So maybe this would have happened regardless.

But there’s also another possibility.  At the root of this decision may be fear of being on the front page of The Miami Herald.

Even though Nubia Barahona died when she was adopted by strangers – after extended family was turned down – there is a good chance that DCF and especially Our Kids learned a very different lesson: Don’t leave a child in any home of any kind where there are “risk factors” – like age and diabetes.  After all, they’re probably thinking, we don’t want to be attacked in the Herald’s next story if we leave the children with grandpa and something goes wrong.

So I guess congratulations may be in order.  The Herald’s bad journalism may have produced its first concrete “accomplishment” – the possible destruction of a loving family and psychic damage to the children beyond measure.

It’s been said that hard cases make bad law – but it’s the laws some people think up  after horror stories that really stink.

            A Florida congresswoman is proving that there is no problem so serious that a politician can’t make it worse.

            Rep. Frederica Wilson first grabbed a little glory at the expense of children in the wake of the last case to get this much attention, the disappearance of Rilya Wilson.  Rilya was gone from her foster home for 15 months before anyone at the Department of Children and Families noticed.  Her body was never found.

            So, instead of proposing sound, sensible ideas to improve DCF, at that point reeling from the take-the-child-and-run policies of then-Secretary Kathleen Kearney, Wilson sponsored a law requiring all pre-school aged foster children to be enrolled in pre-school.  Among other effects of this idiotic law, scarce places in day care, that could go to low income  parents who need them to avoid leaving their children home alone and being charged with “lack of supervision” instead may be going to children whose foster mother and/or foster father don’t even work outside the home.

            The law also fails to consider the individual needs of foster children, some of whom might benefit more from remaining in the foster home each day, rather than going into day care – just as for others the opposite might be the case.

            Wilson called this grand act of stupidity the Rilya Wilson Act – proving once again the adage that one should never trust a law with a first name.

            Now, in an op ed column in the Herald, she’s back with a new idea that’s even worse.  Since Nubia Barahona allegedly was killed by her adoptive parents, Wilson thinks the answer is obvious: Impose the same requirements on adoptive parents.  In addition, Wilson is calling for “tracking of school attendance for these children beyond the age of five” whatever that means.

            Apparently, Wilson does not understand what adoption is.  The whole point of adoption is to provide a child with permanence and security identical to that of a child living with her or his birth parents.  The adoptive parents are the child’s parents.  Period.  End of story.  After an adoption is finalized the child even gets a new birth certificate, with the names of the new parents as her or his parents.  With no asterisk saying “well, not really” and no caveat indicating that adoptive parents are second class parents and adopted children are second-class citizens subject to more government monitoring than the rest of us.

            Among the most vital elements in making an adoptive family a real family is ending the oppressive supervision that comes with having a child welfare agency in your life.  No adopted child can feel fully secure if the government is checking up on mom and dad on a regular basis, and it’s harder for adoptive parents to give children the love and security they deserve if they’re always looking over their shoulder, fearful of a government agency.

            And, while there is compelling evidence that the rate of abuse in foster homes group homes and institutions is far higher than the rate in the general population, that is not true of adoptive homes.

            The problems in the Barahona case had nothing to do with adoption per se – rather, they had to do with who was allowed to adopt Nubia and her brother Victor – and who was not.  Loving relatives were turned down. The problems will not be solved by turning the whole concept of adoption into just a glorified form of foster care.

            Wilson also is wrong on other points.  She suggests that the fact that there has been another horror story means there has been no improvement at DCF.  She writes that, because Nubia died a horrible death  “it appears as if DCF is a textbook example of organizational mismanagement, lapses, and neglect” and needs “a complete overhaul.”

            Given that, sadly, there have been hundreds of child abuse deaths in Florida (and every other state of equal size) over the past decade, and all those between Rilya and Nubia have gone largely unremarked upon by Frederica Wilson, isn’t it she who is guilty of neglect – ignoring the agency until a death caught enough attention for her to latch on and grab a headline?

            And while there have been shortages of many things at DCF, over the past two decades there has been no shortage of “overhauls,” – from the creation of DCF itself, carved out of an even larger agency, to privatization.

            Most important, Wilson’s demagoguery fails to recognize that DCF is not the same agency it was when Rilya Wilson disappeared.   It is a better agency and, independent evaluations show, Florida’s children are safer.


            It is entirely possible to condemn this horrible tragedy and demand improvement while still recognizing progress.  To its credit, The Palm Beach Post did it in an editorial last week.

            Even as it called for a grand jury to further investigate what happened in this case, the editorial also noted that “we don't want the DCF now to shift away from keeping families together when possible and seeking out adoptive parents for foster children.”

            It’s been said that hard cases make bad law – but it’s the laws some people think up  after horror stories that really stink.


            A very sad story from WESH-TV in Orlando illustrates one of the reasons why it is impossible to compare rates of child abuse fatalities among the states – and intellectually dishonest to try.

            The story deals with three recent deaths of young children.  All of them drowned in family pools.  The Daytona Beach News Journal reports that in one case, the child had been taken from her parents and placed with relatives – that makes it a death “known to the system.”

            From what is known so far, in no case were the parents using drugs or otherwise engaging in behavior that would qualify these cases as “neglect.”  Except, that is, in Florida.  At least since 2006, the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee has been pressuring the Department of Children and Families and local law enforcement to label every drowning death of a child, no matter what the circumstances, neglect.

            Other states don’t do that.  Indeed, I know of no other state that is as strict about this as Florida.  Combine that with the number of pools in Florida and it’s easy to see why Florida might look like it has more “child abuse” deaths than other states.

At the time, I wrote a detailed post for our main Child Welfare Blog explaining why I felt Florida was wrong.  But if you think Florida is right, then you should be even more alarmed at how The Miami Herald has misused the data: The Herald is penalizing Florida for being far stricter about defining a death as child abuse than other states. 

            Carol Marbin Miller was aware of all this when she wrote her story purporting to compare rates of child abuse deaths.  She also was aware of the fact that 17 states – including some really big ones like New York and California -  did not even report the number of deaths “known to the system” when filling out the voluntary federal survey she used as her source.

            Of course, the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee knew this, too.  That’s why they warned, in their most recent report, that:

“Definitions and procedures may change within a state over time, as well as statutory requirements for reporting, as they have in Florida, resulting in data that is difficult to compare across years or states.

“Florida has a very active interdisciplinary State Committee administered by the Florida Department of Health. Committee members proactively work within local communities to educate the public and law enforcement on the importance of reporting to the Florida Abuse Hotline child deaths that may not have previously been regarded as the result of maltreatment.” [Emphasis added.]

         One more thing about those drowning deaths in Florida: My post arguing that Florida was wrong to define drownings this way ran in early 2008, discussing data from 2006.  That was before Florida began its reforms reducing entries into care.  So it would have been very much in NCCPR’s interest to hype the supposed big increase in deaths that year – since it could have been used to support our contention that the take-the-child-and-run approach was causing more children to die.  I didn’t do it; on the contrary, I debunked figures which, at that time, I could have used to support my own case.
            There are, in fact, several years when a true apples-to-apples comparison shows that child abuse deaths increased even as entries into care increased as well.  But 2006 wasn’t one of them.

            I didn’t do it with the 2006 figures because of a lesson I had drummed into me back in J-school: You don’t manipulate numbers to support a point of view.  And if the facts don’t fit the theme, change the theme, not the facts.


From the Fort Myers News Press: A good story about the enormous stress on DCF workers, the high caseloads and long hours – often unpaid – that make it easy to understand how some of the errors that the Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission so blithely labeled “fatal ineptitude” can be made even by perfectly competent employees.

And, of course, this shoots still more holes in Carol Marbin Miller’s claims that the Barahona tragedy had anything to do with either family preservation or a rush to adoption.


 One of the biggest problems plaguing DCF before recent reforms was its “Queen of Hearts” approach to management.  In other words, the agency would turn to anyone who had come anywhere near a tragic case and yell “Off with their heads!”

Of course this did nothing to make DCF any better.  It just drove the best employees away and terrified everyone else.  It also encouraged foster-care panic – huge increases in needless removals of children by caseworkers terrified of becoming the next victim of the “Queen of Hearts.”  Not only does that do terrible harm to the children needlessly removed, it also overloads caseworkers, making it even less likely that they’ll find children in real danger.

That doesn’t mean you accept stupidity, laziness or incompetence.  Rather it means you draw distinctions between those employees who are, in fact, stupid, lazy and/or incompetent and those who just happened to be somewhere near the case that ended in tragedy.

One huge blunder in an otherwise reasonable response from DCF Secretary David Wilkins in the Barahona case involves a failure to draw that distinction. It suggests the Queen of Hearts school of management may be making a comeback.

Most of the disciplinary actions mentioned by Wilkins today make perfect sense in light of everything known so far.  But one does not: the reprimand of the DCF Regional Director in Miami, Jacqui Colyer.

There is not a shred of evidence that Colyer knew or should have known of the failure on the part of DCF investigators working for her on this case during the time since she’s been the regional director.  And, of course, Colyer is not responsible for error after error in the years before she got there, or for the blunders at the hotline.  On the contrary, everything I’ve heard indicates that she stabilized a region that had been a huge trouble spot and a revolving door for regional directors in the past. 

In addition, while the Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission report praised DCF officials for their candor, the panel blasted the director of the private lead agency, Our Kids, a key subcontractor, and even the subcontractor’s lawyer. According to their report:

We appreciate the openness of discussions by the majority of those who appeared before the panel. Honesty, candor and transparency are critical to the continued improvement of our child welfare system. However, we must note that the presentation by Delores Dunn, the CEO of the Center for Family and Child Enrichment (CFCE), the case management organization contracted by Our Kids for Nubia and other foster children, was unsatisfactory. In her prepared comments, she repeatedly failed to demonstrate a grasp of the basic facts surrounding the work of her case managers. Her “stage handling” by Fran Allegra, CEO of Our Kids, Inc. and Alan Mishael, Counsel retained by CFCE created suspicions as to what, if anything, they were trying to hide, with both of them answering for her or whispering in her ear while the panel was posing questions. None of this contributed to the candid discussion we expected; instead, it resembled the “circling of the wagons” seen in some past reviews of cases occurring within Florida’s child welfare system.

Yet Wilkins says nothing about Allegra or Dunn.  (Yes, there are recommendations concerning Our Kids, but no personal criticism of the leadership).  So now, the message being sent by Wilkins is: Circling the wagons pays, candor will get you into trouble.

If Jacqui Colyer deserves a reprimand then so does every other regional director.  And when they quit, you may as well reprimand all their successors as soon as they walk in the door.  Because every region in Florida and every child welfare system in the country has some cases where the casework is just as bad as this one.  (The very fact that only the horror stories get this kind of review contributes to the false impression that this kind of casework is typical.) The reason that very few cases end in tragedy, even when the casework is shoddy, is the simple fact that most parents - birth parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents - are not sadists and brutes.

This poor signal by Wilkins also probably means the hiring of 80 new investigators won’t do any good.  All the new investigators will be chasing after all the new cases almost certainly opened needlessly because of the foster-care panic that began with the Herald’s shoddy coverage and now has been encouraged by Wilkins’ blunder.

Footnote: The Herald quotes Wilkins as saying that even though he reprimanded Colyer "I also believe Jacqui Colyer is part of the solution."  Oh.  So, presumably if Wilkins thought Colyer was, say, a "vital" part of the solution, he would have fired her. 


Once again The Palm Beach Post is providing some of the nuance and complexity that the Herald has forgone in favor of scapegoating and sensationalism.  Today’s Post has a good story about the difficulties faced by DCF caseworkers – and their high caseloads.

The story reinforces the findings of the Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission that it was a series of heartbreaking, but mundane, errors that led to this tragedy, as opposed to either of Carol Marbin Miller’s grand unifying theories: a Vast Family Preservation Conspiracy or a rush to adoption. 

It is precisely those mundane issues -  caseloads, training, turnover - that get worse during a foster-care panic – a sharp sudden surge in entries into care.  And that helps explain the one and only true pattern that can be seen in deaths of children known to the system, in Florida and elsewhere: those deaths go up in the wake of such panics.

Although caseworkers sometimes claim they’re “damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” it’s not true.  I have followed child welfare for nearly 35 years, first as a reporter, now as an advocate.  In all that time, I have never seen a caseworker, supervisor or other agency staffer fired, demoted, suspended, reprimanded, or even slapped on the wrist for taking away too many children.  All of these things have happened to workers, supervisors, even agency chiefs, when one child was left in a home and something went wrong.

When it comes to taking away children, caseworkers are not “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  They’re only damned if they don’t.  I hope DCF Secretary David Wilkins reads the Palm Beach Post story before he announces his plans later today.

One footnote: Also in the Post today, a columnist complains that Florida state government does a better job keeping track of trees than foster children.  But there's a reason for that: The trees still have their roots.


The OBRC (Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission) has issued its report.  It confirms what the Sun Sentinel  reports today – mundane communication problems, not a Vast Family Preservation Conspiracy - were at the heart of the failures that led to the tragic death of Nubia and the near death of her brother.

Indeed, there is not one word suggesting that recent reforms were in any way related to this tragedy.  The Herald got it flat wrong when it tried to scapegoat family preservation and the Herald got it flat wrong again when it tried to scapegoat adoption.

The Hearld, and in particular, reporter Carol Marbin Miller, owe a lot of people an apology for trying to impose their own “master narrative” on events.  First, and foremost they owe an apology to all the children they have placed at greater risk by encouraging a foster-care panic, a sharp sudden surge in removals of children from their homes.

What the OBRC failed to do was dig deeper and examine how this tragedy has its roots in the failed take-the-child-and-run approach of Kathleen Kearney.  And they failed to acknowledge that, while there is still a long way to go, the Florida child welfare system has made significant progress over the past several years.


Last week it was family preservation that supposedly was causing all the problems. That was wrong.  Now Carol Marbin Miller is scapegoating the rush to adoption.  That’s wrong, too. 

In Today’s Herald, Miller starts with an extremely rare event, allowing a parent whose parental rights had been terminated to adopt her own child, which turned into an even rarer tragedy – the murder of the children and the mother. Then she combines this with the Barahona case to create another of her Grand Unifying Theories.  Now it’s adoption that supposedly is the heart of the problem.

Were I the type of advocate who put advocacy ahead of accuracy, I’d be tempted to cheer her on.  After all, my organization has been warning about agencies being tempted to make quick-and-dirty slipshod placements to get those adoption numbers up ever since Congress first authorized paying states bounties for adoptions of foster children in 1997.

In addition, the Herald story suggests that the Barahona adoption may have been rushed in order to have it done in time for the state’s annual Adoption Day ceremony.  I’ve been writing annually on our main Child Welfare Blog about the hypocrisy of those ceremonies, although Florida, at least celebrates reunified families as well.

But the problems with the rush to adoption do not include the likelihood that the adoptive parents will kill the children.  Unlike abuse in foster care, abuse in adoptive homes is quite rare – just as abuse by birth parents is, in fact, quite rare.

The real risk in the rush to adoption is that adoptive parents will give up on the children, increasing the rate of adoption “disruption.”  The other problem is precisely the opposite of what happened in the Felicia Brown case – states have rushed to terminate parental rights needlessly.

In the Barahona case, the issue was not adoption per se, but the fact that loving relatives were turned down for adoption in favor of strangers.  But bringing that up implicates Carol Marbin Miller’s favorite source, the former Executive Director of Florida’s Children First, Andrea Moore, who pushed for the change in state law favoring strangers like the Barahonas in these kinds of adoptions.

Miller’s big mistake is that she keeps looking for Grand Unifying Theories to explain tragedies that almost always have far more mundane, and, therefore, more intractable causes.  That’s why the story today in the South Florida Sun Sentinel is far closer to the mark.  According to the story:

"The single most important lesson here is that people have to talk," said David Lawrence Jr., chairman of the three-member panel [investigating the Barahona case]. "If all that information had been gathered together, there is a chance that Nubia is alive."

That Sun Sentinel story makes clear that in the Barahona case what we have here is a failure to communicate – not a Vast Family Preservation – or Adoption – Conspiracy.  Odds are it will turn out that was true in the Brown case as well.


There’s been a lot of talk about who should have known what was going on in the Barahona home.  There have been plenty of scathing comments about a caseworker assigned to the case and pretty much everyone else within DCF who ever came near it.

But an Associated Press story has an intriguing item about who else was fooled.  What that story mentions, at the very bottom, once again raises the issue of double standards when the abuse is in foster care.

First, a little context:

Few associations of foster parents have been more hostile to families over the years than the Florida State Foster Adoptive Parent Association (FSFAPA).  They were huge supporters of Kathleen Kearney and her take-the-child-and-run approach.  One year, Kearney and the association even gave each other awards.

For years, hostility to birth parents has oozed through post after post on a newsgroup some of the members set up. (Lately, the association seems to be distancing itself from that group.  That’s a start.)

Here’s how ugly things got on that newsgroup:

Back in 2005, then-Gov. Jeb Bush tried to stop a 13-year-old foster child from getting an abortion.  An active member of the association at the time, (she chaired one of its committees) and a frequent poster to the newsgroup launched attack after attack – truly vicious posts – about the child.  Here’s a small sample of what this foster parent said about the child [emphasis in original]:

She has no business doing bootie call in the first place. 

If she has the procedure, court order her to use safe sex.  And have her work to pay back the taxpayers of this state.

She’s immature, selfish, irresponsible, careless, etc.

Guess 13 year olds have no personal responsibility. Was she raped? Doesn’t sound like it.

Of course that’s just one foster parent.  But I did not see even one post on the newsgroup from a leader of the Association condemning those attacks.  (In fact, of all those in the newsgroup, only one foster parent of any kind criticized the attacks on this child).  The Miami Herald wasn’t interested either.  I suggested to Carol Marbin Miller that she do a story about it.  She didn’t.

I mention this now because that Associated Press story reports that a longtime officer of the Association spent “lots of time” in the Barahona home and noticed nothing amiss.

"They were committed to the children," she said. "I saw no signs that anything would happen to these children in the home ... so where this came from obviously I don't know."

(The story doesn’t mention that this foster parent is an officer of the association, but it’s on the Association’s website.) 

Of course, unlike a DCF caseworker, a private citizen, even a top official of a foster parent association, has no obligation to uncover maltreatment and was never sent to the home looking for it.

But I hope this experience leads FSFAPA to be careful about rushing to judgment the next time abuse is overlooked in a birth parent’s home.

 Back in 2008, after New Times Broward-Palm Beach ran a short item about a Herald reporter taking a buyout, someone hiding behind anonymity on the New Times website comment section attacked that reporter.  One of those who shot back was Carol Marbin Miller.  She wrote:

“Only a coward and a very bad person would go online and attack people viciously and anonymously.”

Good point.  I hope Ms. Miller is keeping it in mind as she observes the behavior of two anonymous posters in particular on Herald comment boards. 

Florida's Children First has asked that we publish their response to our criticism of their position on key legislation.  Unlike Carol Marbin Miller and The Miami Herald, we are not afraid of dissenting views.  We have published their response, in full on the same page as the original comment.


I’ve dug up data on entries into care in Florida all the way back to 1995 and posted them on the same page as the data on deaths of children “known to the system” so readers can compare them side-by-side.
I actually have a troll to thank for this.  She calls herself snook55, and she’s repeatedly taken data out of context in posts to the Miami Herald website in a desperate attempt to smear Florida’s reforms.  Of course, she won’t take responsibility for her comments by signing her name – but I’m pretty sure now who she is: a longtime member of the “Kearney DCF-in-exile” and one of Carol Marbin Miller’s main sources. 

There are at least two such trolls on the Herald website; I’m even more sure of the identity of the one calling herself walrusandowl.  Snook and I have had quite a dialogue going for the past day or so, and her highly-selective use of data prompted me to post the complete figures so readers can make up their own minds.


Looks like the “Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission” that's always named in the wake of tragedies like this one may, in fact, be zeroing in on the real causes in this particular case.  A Palm Beach Post story about the panel’s meeting today suggests it is zeroing in on what often is at the root of these kinds of tragedies: frustratingly mundane failures of communication and coordination that have nothing to do with anyone’s ideology.  Too bad a Miami Herald reporter rushed to impose her ideology on the issue, making it that much harder to find real solutions.


Someone at the Sarasota Herald Tribune went through the trouble of actually reading the latest report from the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee.  A good editorial today examines the real causes of child abuse tragedies and real solutions.  The editorial takes pains to quote the part of the Review Committee report which says that over the past ten years the numbers on child abuse deaths "have varied with no consistent trend emerging, either for Florida or nationally."

Singling out that quote is, in effect, a rebuke to The Miami Herald and reporter Carol Marbin Miller, whose entire story was premised on creating a false pattern where none exists.

The next few sentences of that report also are relevant.  According to the report:

"Definitions and procedures may change within a state over time, as well as statutory requirements for reporting, as they have in Florida, resulting in data that is difficult to compare across years or states.   Florida has a very active interdisciplinary State Committee administered by the Florida Department of Health.  Committee members proactively work within local communities to educate the public and law enforcement on the importance of reporting to the Florida Abuse Hotline child deaths that may not have previously been regarded as the result of maltreatment."  [Emphasis added].

The Herald itself has a good editorial today, praising DCF for its candor about the most recent tragedy and its willingness to disclose information, while, rightly, calling upon the agency to disclose still more.

And speaking of disclosure, let's hope someone pursues further the role that may have been played in the tragedy of the Barahona children by a 2006 amendment to state law which encouraged judges to prefer strangers to relatives in contested adoptions if the strangers had been foster parents for the children long enough.  In the latest tragedy, that law may well have played a role in the decision of a judge to reject the children's Texas relatives for adoption - in favor of the Barahonas. 

The Palm Beach Post discussed the issue in its story Sunday. Perhaps some reporter will look more closely at that change in the law, and who was behind it.  But you may be sure the reporter won't be Carol Marbin Miller.